I think I’ve hinted at it in previous reviews, but I’m going to say it upfront right now: I’ve been so bored with metal lately. Yes, there are still plenty of good heavy records that have come out in 2020, but I’m not feeling that same rush that I used to when a band I liked released new music. Am I numb because of all the chaos that this year has thrown at us as a global population? Possibly. But still, I’ve been waiting for some enthralling music that can grab me by the neck and violently shake me until I utter ‘Dang, this is good’. As the year comes to a close, will I find the spark that sets my love of metal aflame again? Will I have to return to my cave to hibernate until my cynicism dies down and the new year briefly boosts my productivity once more?
Well, it turns out Cryptodira are an absolute powerhouse that had somehow slipped under my radar until now.
I only knew the name Cryptodira because they recently came through on tour with Veil Of Maya and Intervals. I didn’t attend the show, but my memory still kept that name in the back of my mind. In all honesty, I wrote them off and assumed they’d be another djent band with boring guitar leads and formulaic breakdowns. Lesson learned: don’t judge a band by the tour they’re on. In reality, Cryptodira are one of the most fascinating and distinctive progressive metal bands in the scene today. The band has mastered the sought-after skill of crafting music that doesn’t all sound exactly the same. The songs are heavy as hell when they need to be, but also possess intriguing atmospheres and melodies that separate them from their more generic peers. All of this is featured on the band’s upcoming new album, The Angel of History, an album that may have saved metal in 2020 for me.
It’s obvious from the very beginning that this isn’t just a typical prog metal album. It’s easy to compare the various moments throughout the first track, “Self-(Affect/Efface)”, to a band like Between the Buried and Me because of the complexity and unique musical form. However, Cryptodira has a grasp on making the entire song a cohesive unit rather than just a bunch of riffs slapped together. There is a strong push and pull between intense mathcore sections that are reminiscent of The Dillinger Escape Plan, and softer parts that allow for a quick breath. By allowing for moments of relief, the band makes the pummeling attack of instruments even more crushing when they kick in again. Most notably, the peaceful classical guitar at the end of “Self-(Affect/Efface)” deceptively leads into “Dante’s Inspiration”, which is easily one of the most intense tracks on the album.
I think it’s important to note that Cryptodira doesn’t fall into the trap that plenty of other metal bands do. The band seems to put songwriting before instrumental technicality, which seems to be strangely rare for much of progressive metal. The lead single, “A Tendency to Fall” proves this point well. The song moves through different territories and sections, but it never loses the energy that is solidified from the very beginning. Rather than showing off by cramming as many notes as possible into a solo section, Cryptodira puts powerful chords under a hauntingly catchy vocal line. By distancing themselves from the clichés found in some other progressive metal music, the band thrives thanks to their strong focus on musicality.
The second single from the record, “What Can’t Be Taken Back” is one of the most fantastic musical journeys on the album, and I’d also be daring enough to say it’s one of the most enjoyable metal tracks I’ve heard in 2020. While the very beginning sounds like it was ripped straight from a hardcore record by Knocked Loose or Jesus Piece, it soon moves into another atmospheric section where the band and vocals both sound distant. When you’re expecting the song to come back from the dead and continue an onslaught, it takes a total left turn and moves into a gorgeous section with clean vocals. “What Can’t Be Taken Back” perfectly represents Cryptodira‘s versatility with their songwriting and proves they can write reserved and catchy moments just as effectively as the heavy segments.
After the wild ride that Cryptodira takes you on, the calming and ethereal introduction to the finale, “Something Other Than Sacrifice”, seems almost out of place. However, it is the calm before the storm that leads into one of my favorite tracks on the album. The riffs are enormous, the vocals are emotional and raw, and the band is wildly tight. The final two minutes of the song also introduce a breakdown that is easily the most vicious and unrelenting part of the entire album. “Something Other Than Sacrifice” is the perfect culmination to end the album with, as it sends the listener off in a triumphant and robust way.
The Angel of History managed to rekindle my fondness of metal. During a year where things began to feel so hopeless, I truly had a hard time finding enjoyment in things I usually love. If you ask me, The Angel of History continues to be interesting regardless of how many times you’ve listened (and trust me, I listened to it a lot). Cryptodira aren’t veterans quite yet, but they have a mastery of the genre that is rare among such young bands. While I don’t know if this record will propel them to become more well-known in the progressive metal scene, they definitely deserve any praise they receive. If you also have felt that metal has been a bit stale, do yourself a favor and give The Angel of History a listen. It may evoke the same feelings in you as it did in me.